The advent of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has since shifted the global economy from an industrial society to information, with digital technologies assuming an important and indispensable role.
Digital technologies, therefore, increasingly provide access to information as well as essential services to connect, work and learn.
As these have become critical tools for economic activities and social interactions, there is, therefore, the need for households, and communities to have access to infrastructures, equipment and devices and the skill to use them.
To join the digital inclusion and world’s moving train, the Odu’a Investment Foundation (OIF), a non-profit making arm of Odu’a Investment Company Limited, inaugurated in July this year, has begun to function according to its objectives.
Its focus is on three areas- youth empowerment, education and healthcare needed to equip and educate the teeming population of youths and students in the region.
As part of its mandate, the Foundation last week launched a Digital Education for Innovation and Economic Development project to upskill the youth in the Southwest geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
Apart from this, the mandate of the Foundation is also targeted at positively impacting directly the youth, women and the elderly by directing the resources pulled together into projects and initiatives for the betterment of the people.
As the Foundation keyed into the digital capacity development for millions of youths, through this, it is expected to enhance transformative entrepreneurship and employment opportunities.
Olatokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, chairman, OIF speaking at the formal launch in Lagos, said that the project was conceptualised to develop and hone the digital capacity of the youth, and students in a radical, holistic way and build a future of tech-savvy and transformative entrepreneurs at upskilling youths in the 137 local government areas in the region.
Alongside the project is the introduction of Byte Busters coding clubs in all primary and secondary schools across the southwest.
“This will be another significant digital step towards having a smart, globally competitive youth population. The strategic processes to implement and sustain the project, involve the development of comprehensive curricula, spanning the first 12 years of education, which will align with the Nigerian educational system, establishing coding clubs, organising coding competitions and setting up innovation hubs,” she said.
According to her, this curriculum will seamlessly integrate digital skills and technologies across subjects, ensuring that youths are equipped with relevant knowledge and practical experience from their formative stage in life.
While saying that the key drive is to create a thriving ecosystem that will promote innovation, economic growth and sustainable development in the region, she disclosed that forty functional locations across the states are ideal hubs for nearby schools as well as tech skills acquisition centres for young adults have been identified for the project.
Olatokunbo, who is the daughter of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo however, noted that for the South-West to continue to set the pace in Nigeria, “the foundation will focus on formulating and implementing cutting-edge ideas and programmes that will speak directly to the needs of our people’s present and future while consolidating on the gains of the past.
“Our young ones are our future. The youth are the drivers of development all over the world. A well-trained and properly kitted youth population will not only birth an economically viable society but will also engender the safety of all. As the Foundation grows, we pray that we are able to harness the talents and enthusiasm of all well-meaning members of the South-West towards accomplishing the best from this developmental initiative.”
According to her, “As we can see from the name of the initiative, it is about using education and innovation to drive economic development for the good of all. Our young ones cannot hunt the bird of tomorrow with yesterday’s stones.
“This is the age of digital learning and smart jobs. We need to ensure that our youths are equipped with the right education and the right skills which, we believe, will make them not only relevant but competitive in an increasingly technology-driven world. You must have what the market needs before you can sell. That is why we must give our young ones the skills and the opportunity to compete and excel on the global stage.
“The initiative targets pupils and students but also, quite naturally, incorporates the potential for the creation of tech hubs for appropriate skills acquisition for young adults. The entire project focuses more on children within the public school system and the less-privileged.”
Bimbo Ashiru, group chairman of Odua Investment Company, noted that the project which is an ambitious campaign, will take digital education and opportunities to all the 137 local government areas in southwest states of Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti and Lagos.
According to him, “We do not need an expert to tell us that the digital age is upon us. We have seen first-hand how the digital revolution has transformed the economies of several advanced and developing countries.
“The youth are at the forefront of the adoption of digital technology and have the highest potential to benefit from what has become an increasingly evolving, and fast-paced digital world. This project will help position youth for the digital age, by providing digital education and creating opportunities for them to hone these skills in a supportive environment. This program has the potential to provide an opportunity of a lifetime to many young people across the region by creating our own digital revolution.”
Seun Kolade, a professor and keynote speaker at the launch, said: “No one can possibly prevent us from digitally educating our children but this digital education can be a game-changer that enables us to tackle our multifaceted existential and seemingly intractable problems, including physical insecurity, food insecurity and unemployment.”
“Southwest”, he posited, “needs not to wait for the Federal Government to build digital Infrastructure, develop competencies and state-of-the-art digital education of our children, arming them with wings to fly and us with them into new heights of prosperity and inclusive growth.”
Kolade, who is the Head of research and professor of entrepreneurship and digital transformation at Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom, said that the “continued digital exclusion of our youth is not only a clog in the wheel of our collective progress, it is also an existential crisis that must be addressed with urgency.”
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, at the launch, said the initiative carries the promise of brighter futures for Nigerian youths, which he said are the pillars of Nigeria’s progress.
“Our rapidly evolving digital landscape, where access to knowledge and IT skills is paramount, needs a decisive response and I am happy that this project has emerged as a beacon of hope and opportunity, which stands as a testament to the collective determination of the foundation to create a more inclusive and innovative society,” he said.
He added that education was the cornerstone of progress, and digital education, stressing that it is the key that unlocks countless doors of opportunity.
He assured that the state government was committed to utilising education and technology to transform Lagos state into a smart city.
“We are intentional in our policies and we are designing interventions that will improve the business environment, reform critical government systems and institutions as well as unlock new levels of innovative thinking, especially in our youth,” he said.
According to him, one of the key highlights of the launch of DEFINED is the launch of the Byte Busters Coding Club, noting that the club, specially designed to empower youths with essential digital skills, represents a crucial investment in the future.
Also speaking, the Governor, Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, said the world was rapidly evolving, and so are the skills required for success in the 21st Century, maintaining that technology has become an integral part of human daily lives and businesses across the globe.
He said that digital technologies have also enabled a sharing economy, where individuals can monetise their assets and skills through platforms like Airbnb and Uber, pointing out that it has created new income streams and entrepreneurship opportunities, contributing to economic growth and job creation.
On his part, Oyo State government, through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, expressed its readiness to partner with Odu’a Investment Foundation on its flagship Digital Education for Innovation and Economic Development (DEFINED) Project, to promote the digital education and inclusive innovation among the Secondary School Students in the state.
Salihu Adelabu, commissioner for education, explained that the Ministry was planning to have an Education Development Centre (EDC) that will be used to build the capacity of the teachers and other stakeholders in the education sector of the state.
He hinted that the centre would focus on building the capacity of the teachers in Information Communication Technology (ICT), adding that this will allow them to impart ICT knowledge to the students.
The Commissioner further said that the ministry intended to start catching young students in the state on digitisation and ICT to further enhance their education skills.
He said: The Ministry is planning to have, an Education Development Centre (EDC). This centre will be used to build the capacity of our teachers and other education stakeholders. If we have education development centres in the ministry, the ICT component will be attached and the department is dedicated to applied sciences at the ICT, and we will work with other ICT gurus to begin to develop the ICT capacity of our teachers.
“ You cannot give what you don’t have, the moment we started drilling our teachers, and they started to acquire the capacity, it became seamless for them to impact that knowledge into our secondary school children.
“We equally want to partner with Odu’a Investment Company, their foundation group, on the digitalisation for innovation economic development.
‘We want to start with our children in the form of a catch-them-young project and luckily enough, we have a few schools where the students are doing pretty well, few of them are Government College Ibadan, (GCI), Emmanuel Alayande, School of Science, Olivet Baptist High School and many of others.So, between now and the first quarter of next year, we should begin to actualise the use of digitalization education in our secondary schools.
The ‘DEFINED’ project is conceptualised to develop the digital capacity of the youths in a radical holistic way and build a future of tech-savvy, transformative entrepreneurs across South-west Nigeria.
“A key content of this initiative is the development of a comprehensive education curriculum spanning the first 12 years of education (Primary 1 to Senior Secondary School (SSS) 3) in alignment with the Nigerian education system.
This curriculum will seamlessly integrate digital skills and technologies across subjects, ensuring that young people are equipped with relevant knowledge and competencies from an early age.